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Pledge to Deter Outside Spending in Elections Made Strides in 2014

Dec. 19, 2014

Pledge to Deter Outside Spending in Elections Made Strides in 2014

New Public Citizen Report Shows Impact and Momentum of the ‘People’s Pledge’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The number of candidates proposing pledges to deter major election spending by outside groups increased dramatically in the 2014 elections, a new Public Citizen report shows.

The “People’s Pledge” began with an agreement in 2012 between then-U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and challenger Elizabeth Warren to make a donation to a charity if outside groups spent money to praise them or attack their opponent. The Brown-Warren agreement was almost entirely successful at achieving its objective of keeping outside money out of the race.

Public Citizen and Common Cause conducted extensive outreach in 2014 to persuade candidates to take a pledge similar to that used by Brown and Warren. The two groups sent letters to general election candidates in more than 100 of the most contested races throughout the country.

There are many positive signs for those who wish to curtail outside spending using pledges in the future. Those include:

  • Significantly more candidates proposed the pledge in 2014 than in 2012 (18 races in 2014 versus two races in 2012);
  • At least four Republicans proposed the pledge, representing interest by members of a party that has not tended to list campaign finance reform objectives among its top priorities in recent years;
  • A Republican candidate ran advertisements on the pledge (Senator-elect Dan Sullivan from Alaska);
  • The pledge helped elevate the debate, as reflected by a significantly lower percentage of negative advertisements in “pledge” contests;
  • The pledge has an almost perfect track record of succeeding when candidates enter into joint agreements;
  • Pledge proposals have often become campaign issues, especially in Massachusetts, and have been covered by the media; and
  • The pledge is popular with the public. (A poll by a Democratic and Republican firm found that the majority of voters would be influenced by the decision of a candidate to propose the Pledge. Further, those voting on the issue are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the People’s Pledge by a factor of 5 to 1.)

“In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed unprecedented amounts of outside spending that flowed into elections,” said Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign. “Although the pledge won’t be the cure-all to curtail overall outside spending, it does give candidates a useful tool to control the message of their own campaign and stop outside money flooding into their race.”

“The People’s Pledge has helped create more civil debate, fewer attack ads and more accountability in politics,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, senior vice president for strategy and programs at Common Cause. “Along with strengthened disclosure laws, contribution limits and small donor-based public financing programs, the People’s Pledge is an important tool in the fight to break the dominance of big money in our elections. We look forward to engaging more candidates in the next cycle to continue showing that the People’s Pledge works.”

Read the report.